I inched closer, lifting my camera, slowly. I was aware of the huge claw-like feet and waited, with closed eyes, for the kick. I was always waiting for the kick, imagining my stomach ripped open, tummies and livers and meters of intestines tumbling out.
An ostrich kick could kill you, someone told the little girl. Lifting its foot, the huge nail would hook into your soft belly, slashing it open as it steps down hard. The best defence is to keep it away by jabbing it with a branch of a thorn tree. Or lying down. The worst that can happen then is the giant bird stepping on you, all of the +100kg.
She has always been intrigued by ostriches. In the same way people are intrigued by the gruesome details of a mass murder or staring at road accidents.
I don’t have a thorny branch. All I have is a small pink camera. Would it try to eat it? Ostriches eat crazy stuff you know; lizards, stones, Coke bottles – to help digest their normal food.
Small pink cameras? This one might. Do the stones and the Coke bottles and the pink cameras ever appear again? Suddenly I am happy ostriches can’t fly.
They say she is a female. Demurely dressed in greyish-brown sad-looking feathers she is watching me with her huge eye. Ostriches have the biggest eyes of all land mammals. I will not measure it.
I merely watch it. The eye. It has looooooooong lashes (she was born with) and it opens and closes with a grey wrinkly lid. Reflecting in the huge eyeball I see a tiny me with a bulging head, holding a pink camera.
In my eyes she was not pretty either: long skinny legs, a sinewy neck and huge dimpled buttocks. Somali ostriches have orange necks and the Masai species have blue necks. The huge Northern ostriches have red necks. This Southern ostrich is a sensible boring grey. Grey neck, grey legs.
Her feathers were drooping and sagging with water from the lawn’s sprinklers. Ostriches don’t have the oil glands other birds have to waterproof their plumage, but still they can swim.
No refuge in the swimming pool for me if she starts chasing me, then.
I am within a meter of the huge floppy bird. She has turned her crinkly bold head and is looking at me straight-on. Two huge eyes. The tension is enormous. Her toenails are enormous. I suck in my stomach to tighten the muscles. She might not be able to tear into my belly’s skin so easily now.
Suddenly, with a flurried fanfare of feathers, she collapsed. The bird was now a heap of grey legs, feet and feathers. Her neck, like a huge grey stocking was soft and very deadlike on the green grass.
I look around. People are staring, pointing, gasping like birds on a boiling hot day. A game ranger comes running towards the game lodge’s pet ostrich and prods the small head with his finger. Dead yes. She was old, he sighs and wipes some sweat from his eyes.
A few days later, the chef was describing the day’s special dish to new guests.
‘Mature ostrich fillet served medium-rare in a mulberry and Merlot reduction, accompanied by lightly steamed Asian vegetables.’
- The main ostrich industry in South Africa started in the 1850’s in the Klein Karoo near Oudtshoorn. This warm, arid region is ideal as the dry climate prevents many diseases.
- The world-famous SA Black ostrich is made up of various ostrich subspecies – north and east African.
- Masai or Somali ostrich are farmed in various countries but they are aggressive. Although they have big carcasses, they have poor feather and leather quality and lay fewer eggs.
- The total value of a slaughtered bird is made up of 45% skin, 45% meat and 10% feather.